Interview with Claudia Lebenthal – part 2

LebenthalClaudia_claudia3Last Friday, we introduced you to Claudia Lebenthal here on our blog. In that post (here is a link), Claudia spoke with me about her experience working in what we will refer to as “the industry” since her experiences are so vast. With titles that range from graphic design assistant to lead designer to associate art director to head art director to visual project director to book curator to executive creative director we are certain that learning a bit about her struck a chord with many of you.

Today, in part 2 of the interview with Claudia, the conversation is geared more toward students heading into photography school and those who have recently graduated and are entering the industry themselves. If you are in one of these two camps, you will probably find this to be a pretty good read. Here goes …

Claudia, what is your experience with photography school(s)? Did you attend a photo-specific school yourself?

I was an art major at Stanford University, not the typical route one takes there, especially these days! It was a fantastic program though… not vocational training but more theoretical in a liberal arts setting. So my personal experience is not with a dedicated art or photography school, but if you know that’s what you want to pursue, do it! Being a good photographer starts with having a point of view. The technical things you will learn are there to enhance the vision you already have. The nice thing about photography school is it gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in photography, and to explore and evolve your visual story telling.


Having been in the role of photo editor, and being the person that gets to say yay or nay to an image ending up in print, what are your thoughts of working with someone fresh out of photo school and may not be established yet? What pitfalls should our graduates avoid when working with editors?

I’m up for working with anyone with talent, who has an interesting and consistent point of view. The latter is very important and you don’t always see that straight out of school. That takes some time to evolve and it gets a little risky for an editor when photo budgets are involved. A photo editor wants to be sure they are going to get the image they need, especially these days. Rather than jumping right into the game, I would advise assisting a photographer whose work you admire and gain some experience by working with them.

In your experience, what is missing from the toolbox of many photographers working today? Video skills? Lighting? Ability to code a web site?

As we have moved into the digital era of photography, I think photographers rely way too much on Photoshop and the technical aspects of photography. I grew up in the analog era of photography when there was no option to “fix it in post.” You had to create the image while you were taking it. Lighting is critical for that, so I would say that’s where to focus. Spend some time shooting film with an old Leica or Hasselblad and get back to the roots of photography with no technology to rely on!


What are the most important and beneficial skills a photo school graduate needs to possess before pounding the pavement in search of clients?

As I mentioned up in question 2, I do think its critical to have spent a couple of years assisting a photographer before you start pounding the pavement. Not many photo editors will hire someone straight out of school unless they have a large and consistent body of work, which is rare to see at such early stages of a career. You will gain invaluable experience working regularly with a photographer whose work you admire — seeing how they execute their vision in all sorts of circumstances, and interact with art and photo editors. If that photographer works regularly with certain clients, when you do go out on your own, you will already have a relationship with all those editors. It will make them much more likely to give you a shot. Keep working on building your portfolio. Bond with the hair & makeup artists, models, stylists, assistants and other members of the photo team so you can do some test shoots of your own during this time.


Tomorrow, you are graduating from RMSP’s Career Training program. What is your first move? Your second? Your third?

The first move is a portfolio. Invest in a good one or be creative and make an interesting presentation of your work. Maybe it’s a scrapbook… or box or prints… or digital presentation.

Second… find a photographer to assist!

Third… shoot, shoot, shoot!


Have any parting words or advice for people who are either considering photo school or are just graduating and getting ready to make a splash?

I wasn’t a photographer, but a graphic designer, however I think for anyone starting out in any creative field, it’s about enthusiasm and eagerness to learn from those with whom you are working. Go the extra mile, take the extra shot, be willing to try another approach. The more you take on, the more opportunities you will be given. You will be hired for your vision, but right out of school it tends to have a completely artistic approach. Unless your plan is to be a fine artist, that isn’t always right in a commercial setting where the parameters can get pretty specific. I recently worked with a RISD grad who was extremely talented. His designs weren’t always right the first go, but with direction he nailed it every time.

Want to learn a bit more about Claudia? Check out the sites below and view the gallery of select screenshots to get an idea of the work Claudia has been part of.

Style of Sport
claudialebenthal.com